Over Your Cities Grass Willl Grow

In OVER YOUR CITIES GRASS WILL GROW, director Sophie Fiennes provides a cinematic examination of an artist at work. However, this is no small task. For the past 30 years Anselm Kiefer, a German painter and sculptor whose works have been featured in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and many others, and his small team of assistants have been working to transform an 86-acre abandoned silk factory to a colossal multilevel work of art. Working with various mediums, themes, and ideas, Kiefer’s work is a fascinating subject for this truly elegant film.

Kiefer traditionally deals in heavy subjects such as the Holocaust and this is no different. Drawing on biblical passages that describe the destruction of once-glorious man-made creations, in this apocalyptic project, destruction is the primary form of creation. There is a certain sense of exhilaration when you hear the artist say, “I think it needs more acid,” and watch as a gigantic lead book slowly degrades and takes on interesting colors and characteristics. Or the slight feeling of terror when you witness real books getting placed in a fire on a skewer, but emerge with the pages transformed into big flakes of ash stacked one on top of the other in beautiful shapes.

OVER YOUR CITIES GRASS WILL GROW takes you on an unforgettable tour of this vast work-in-progress, presenting the tiniest detail with as much grandeur as the massive sculptures, the artist at work, and the artist explaining his work. For obvious reasons this exhibit will not be traveling to a city near you, so be sure to catch this gorgeous documentary at Violet Crown Cinema this week!

Click here to buy tickets and reserve seats.

Dance, Theater, Passion

Tanztheater, as developed by legendary choreographer, Pina Bausch, goes beyond dance and theater to present a means of expression that is unbound by the constraints of language or rules of classical dance. The beautiful thing about Tanztheater is that you get the overwhelming sense that you are experiencing emotion communicated in its purest form. In 1985, director, Wim Wenders, experienced this unique form of communication and was deeply moved, creating a long lasting friendship between the two artists. For years the pair speculated on how to best show Tanztheater in a way that was cinematic, without losing the depth of experiencing it in person. However, when everything was about to come together, Pina died suddenly a few days before shooting was scheduled to begin in 2009. The result of their collaboration, and the grief that followed is PINA, a 3-D documentary which contains scenes from some of her major pieces, interviews with her dancers, archival footage of Pina at work, and solo performances done in honor of her memory.

PINA is not so much a documentary as it is a eulogy. From it, you get a profound sense of what Pina meant to those who had the opportunity to work with her, but it is not about loss. Rather, PINA demonstrates the lessons she left behind about not being afraid to access your own emotions, from which art is created. In short, PINA is about passion.

Anything but a Clean Break

Rarely does a film manage to capture muddy human drama in a fashion as pristine as Asgar Farhadi’s Academy Award nominated, A SEPARATION, which presents neo-realist moral dilemmas with the urgency and suspense of a thriller. Simin and Nader are ending their 14-year marriage due to Simin’s desire to take their 11-year-old daughter, Termeh, to the United States and Nader’s refusal to leave Iran while his father is in the late stages of Alzheimer’s. However, this is only the inciting incident which causes each event thereafter to unfurl into a complex picture of modern Iran. The tension in A SEPARATION increases on multiple levels and comments on issues surrounding class, civil government, religion, and family.

With Simin no longer with him, Nader hires Razieh, a devout lower-class woman with a daughter and another child on the way, to take care of his father. Under this arrangement, religion comes into conflict with responsibility and snowballs as the film develops. Razieh’s dogma dictates that she is not to be in the presence of a naked man who is not her husband, but she must help the old man change after he has soiled himself. Though she does her best, Razieh is in over her head and proves to be inadequate as a caretaker, if not outright negligent, angering Nader who violently forces her out of his home, potentially causing her to have a miscarriage, which is murder in Iran.

A SEPARATION differs from neo-realist Iranian films from directors such as Abbas Kiarostami which feature non-actors and are not as plot-driven, but the emphasis on tension remains. Farhadi, who has a background in theater, expertly directs the actors so that the drama increases slowly and thoughtfully with each new bit of information. A SEPARATION acknowledges that justice takes on different forms depending on the background of the person seeking it, presenting a compelling treatment of morality in a theocratic state.

Be sure to catch this phenomenal film at Violet Crown Cinema, this Friday, the 10. Austin Film Society members, present your membership card to the concierge when purchasing your ticket to receive a $2 discount!

You Are Not Going to Want to Miss This

At Violet Crown Cinema, it is our goal to showcase the best art cinema from around the world. Out of respect for the films and our audience and in order to ensure a pleasurable, uninterrupted viewing experience, we will admit people into the theater up to 10 minutes after the films scheduled start time. Should you happen to arrive after the film has started, we would be happy to swap your tickets to another film or showtime, give you passes to come back another time or provide a refund for your ticket purchase.

Somebody once told me that the first frame of a film is the most important one. It is the image that sets the stage for all of the images to follow. Especially with art cinema such as MELANCHOLIA and TAKE SHELTER, the opening of a film has a huge amount of power, and is essential to fully appreciating it. One of the best introductions to a film I can remember was the opening of Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterpiece, THERE WILL BE BLOOD (2007) which had almost no dialogue, but instantly immersed me in the intensity of the world of oil. It vividly depicted the dirt, danger, and   excitement that created a wave of emotions that would play out more fully over the course of the film. If you remove the opening, THERE WILL BE BLOOD does not mean the same thing and becomes a different film entirely.

Be on time!

We are very excited about this new policy and the positive impact it will have on our guests. Arriving at the cinema early makes it easier to get your food on time, allows you to find your seat comfortably, minimizes the possibility of distracting your fellow patrons, and to enjoy your film the way it was intended to be seen.

Young at Heart

YOUNG ADULT is the first time director, Jason Reitman, and screenwriter, Diablo Cody, have worked together since the pair delivered the delightful comedy, JUNO, in 2007. However, this time, the characters are much older, less “quirky”, darker, but still childish. Charlize Theron plays Mavis, the popular, pretty, annoyingly mean girl that you knew in High School. But instead of maturing upon moving to the big city, Mavis used the initial  success of the Young Adult series of books she wrote as an excuse to hold on to her illusions of superiority, which does not go away when the series fails and her old flame settles down with somebody else. Desperate, she goes back to her hometown expecting to win back everything she left behind.

In the context of the careers of Jason Reitman, Diablo Cody, YOUNG ADULT is fascinating and daring in addition to being a fantastic example of their craft. There is a moment in the film when Mavis refers to a combination KFC-Taco Bell-Pizza Hut as a “Kentacohut” and her well-meaning old friend replies, “You sound like a character in one of your books!” Knowing the distinctive lingo and massive popularity of her scripts, it would be easy to conclude that Diablo Cody herself has received that comment on numerous occasions when visiting her small hometown. That adds a great deal of depth to the film, especially considering the fact that the character of Mavis is a tour-de-force of unlikability. Comedian Patton Oswalt gives a fantastic performance as Matt, a man who also was never quite able to get over High School, but for very different reasons.  He shades in the holes of Mavis’ character and sheds light on the more humanizing details.

Charlize Theron Young Adult

People who are fans of JUNO might expect a straight forward comedy, but this is a step in a different direction. At the same time, it is not strictly dramatic. Its strength is that everyone involved is putting everything on the table. YOUNG ADULT fearlessly explores the uglier side of people while telling a complex and engaging story.


Most people I talk to are very excited about the opening of SHAME at Violet Crown Cinema this Friday because of its star, Michael Fassbender whose IMDB page reads like the work was done by a super-human with unlimited time and multiple personalities. Indeed, Fassbender is a tremendously skilled (and handsome) actor, making him the perfect fit for a film about a troubled sex-addict. As the title implies, SHAME is not quite erotic, despite its NC-17 rating. Fassbender’s character, Brandon, is so haunted by the desire for sex, he is incapable of feeling anything else, resulting in his inability to connect with the girls he is with, his co-workers, and even his sister (Carey Mulligan).

What makes SHAME stand out from the catalogue of films starring Michael Fassbender is the director he is working with. Much like writer/director Miranda July, whose film THE FUTURE, played here in August, UK-based director Steve McQueen (not to be confused with the actor) delivers his second feature with profound artistry which shows off his roots in video art. SHAME is not flashy, but with its observational long takes and direct  message, it is scorching. All this is evident in McQueen’s video art which was projected on one or more walls of a museum. For instance, Deadpan, an homage to the Great Stone Face, Buster Keaton, is done in two shots with a lot of negative space, a symmetrical frame, and a slow pace.

The same aesthetic and narrative clarity is present in HUNGER, his astounding first film about IRA leader, Bobby Sands, which also features Michael Fassbender. The films of Steve McQueen do not operate on the same level as  most movies because the director does not approach them from the same career path. His films fully embody what it means to be truly art cinema.

Conversations with Chimpanzees

Recently I had the opportunity to have a conversation with Primatologist Bob Ingersoll, who is an active advocate for chimpanzees and was one of the key players in the life of Nim Chimpsky, the extraordinary chimp who was the subject of an experiment in language development in chimpanzees. Initially raised as if he were human, Nim communicated using sign-language until the humans he was working with, did not know what to do with him any longer. Here, Bob talks about his work, his memories of Nim, and the film which is opening at Violet Crown Cinema this Friday, PROJECT NIM.

Bob Ingersoll and Nim

Elizabeth Skerrett: How did you first get involved with chimpanzees?

Bob Ingersoll: As it turns out, I was in the air force and I met this girl from Oklahoma who I ended up marrying. So I moved across the country to where she was living in Missouri, a couple of hundred miles from Oklahoma in Kansas City. And while I was there in 1974, I heard about Washoe [a chimpanzee who was being raised as a human] from a graduate student who was teaching my introduction to zoology lab. And I was in that class where this guy who was a kid himself, could not stop talking about this talking chimpanzee in Oklahoma. And that made me wonder what he was talking about so I did a little research and found out about Washoe and Roger Fouts who had all this going on at the University of Oklahoma. And as it turns out, I was going to be going to the University of Oklahoma in a few months because my then-wife was getting out of the Air Force and we were moving to Norman to be students at the university there. And lo and behold Roger Fouts was my first professor in my first class at OU. So I went up to him and said, “I want to work with you.” And he said, “Sure”. He told me what to do, and I did it, and a few days later I was with Nim’s older brother, Ally. So that’s how it happened. I accidentally ended up in Oklahoma and coincidentally ended up in Roger Fouts’ class. And it was a stroke of luck for me because I was looking for something meaningful in my life after having gotten out of the military in the Vietnam War and not really knowing what the hell I was going to do, or who I was going to be.

ES: That’s awesome.

BI: Yeah, I was really lucky.

ES: So what was your first impression of Nim and his previous caretakers?

BI: Well, Nim was already in New York, because he was born in 1973, a year before I fell into the whole chimpanzee-sign-language debate. I knew about Nim because I was hanging out with his older brother, Ally, but I didn’t know much about his personality. I knew how Ally was. He was kind of skittish and gun-shy around humans. His personality wasn’t nearly as accessible as Nim’s. In the scene of the film where you see Joyce and Bill bring him to the center and they’re holding Nim, looking like, “Holy crap”, I’m sure that’s how Nim was too. Well I happened to be there that day, watching the events unfold from the sidelines because I was just a student. And I immediately thought, “Man, this is bad.” Not only do these two humans really love this chimp with all their heart, they are supremely bummed because they don’t really have a say in this. And Nim was even more freaked out because he was seeing a bunch of chimps in cages, but he had never seen a chimp before other than the two weeks he spent with his mother. I thought that this was bad and it was just going to get worse. After they left, I had empathy for both Joyce and Bill, and I just thought that the best thing that I could do was to become friends and see what happens. And I found Nim to be just awesome, really open, and accessible, and friendly, and funny, and fun to be around. You’d think he would be pissed off at the circumstances. But he didn’t know that he should have been in Africa and he should have had a family of chimps. So he was pretty open to whatever was happening and it didn’t take him very long, in my opinion, to really accept that he was a chimp. From the time I met him, my first thought was to make him a chimp. And what better way than to let him hang out with other chimps. So that’s what we did as much as we could until the chimps got tangled up in that mess of getting sold to the Laboratory for Experimentation and Surgery in Primates. I was pretty vocal about the whole situation because all chimps are individual beings and deserve the same kind of treatment. It’s an ongoing controversy. Nim is kind of the poster-boy for “what-not-to-do with chimps.”

Joyce, Bill, and Nim

ES: That’s a theme of the movie, isn’t it? The powers that be making decisions that are not in the best interest of many individuals and they don’t have any control over it. For instance, Nim was separated from his mother, Stephanie, his first foster-mother, the students, and then from you.

BI: Right. Chimps were treated like property. And I think that is an issue when you realize that these are living, feeling beings. It is difficult to address that. It seems to me that we are grappling with how to deal with it because obviously, chimpanzees are not machines. How do we deal with that as humans? How do we deal with our closest relatives? It seems to me that a lot of these issues are more philosophical than scientific. At the time, I was just a kid and was still mulling over the ethical ramifications of the experiment in my head. I was starting to meet chimps and understand them on their level. From the 1975 perspective, I have to say that nobody, or not very many people, thought that what they were doing, taking a chimp into a human family and seeing what happens, seemed that unusual back then. Now, that seems crazy – really crazy. Now, my problem with Herb is his lack of methodology and blaming Nim for something that wasn’t his fault. And I have a big problem with the fact that they did not know anything about chimps. That’s a thing that could have easily been solved. Chimpanzees are a lot more complex than we give them credit for. When you are actually interacting with an animal, it is a real eye-opener.

ES: One last question, and this one is admittedly a little off-subject. But did you see the film, RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES?

BI: Hell yeah! I was sitting there in the audience thinking, “This film is about my life!” And they have alluded to the fact that they know all about Nim and that guy who is the star…

ES: James Franco.

BI: Yeah. He was very aware of Project Nim while they were filming that movie. I found RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES to be very engaging, extremely entertaining, and an accurate portrayal of what goes on in labs in terms of the boredom and other things that go on, philosophically. I also really liked that the chimps and the orangutans are the heroes of that movie, as opposed to the humans. It seems to me anyway that that movie is way ahead of its time. And I think it’s great because it’s entertaining. That’s why I think PROJECT NIM is so good. Though it’s kind of hard, and it really is a little difficult at times, it’s still very entertaining.

Bob will be at Violet Crown this weekend for special Q&A’s so be sure to stop by and get the full story of PROJECT NIM.